Dear readers, this one almost ended our friendship. Not really, but kind of. Despite her considerable skills of avoidance, Annemarie finally witnessed The Cabin in the Woods. The whip-smart horror comedy has quickly become the stuff of movie nerd legend. Annemarie might have been able to ignore that, but as a devoted Buffy fan, there was no way she was going to get away with skirting a picture that comes from the minds of Joss Whedon himself, and Drew Goddard, the man who penned some classic (and dark) episodes of the series.
Alright AM, air your grievances about how this movie was scarier than advertised, but do indulge us in your reaction beyond that, and, of course, your thoughts on why this picture made the “must watch” list.
A: I never, EVER believe Brooke (or my husband for that matter) when they say something “isn’t scary.” It’s not that I think you’re trying to lead me astray on purpose; I actually think the scary thing isn’t actually that scary for you. But I am quite the delicate flower. I knew Cabin would be pretty scary, but I somehow did get talked into this thing, fair and square.
While I loved this film, I have a serious qualm because IT WAS A LOT SCARIER AND GORIER THAN ADVERTISED. Now that that’s on the record, it’s fine. I get why this was on the top of the horror list because it’s not trying to scare us for the sake of scaring us. The supernatural, “old gods are real and waiting for us” plotline is a total send-up of the classic horror tropes, with comedy aplenty. Like with Scream, I can understand that they’re mocking the genre while still being totally scared by the results.
Brooke, back to you. What do you love about this? How would you rank the terror factor on a scale of 1 to 10? And is there any moment in your first viewing that truly shocked or scared you? (I’m told nothing will scare you ever again, but I am curious.)
B: I would rank The Cabin in the Woods at a 2 on the terror scale if I’m being generous. The monsters that eventually come pouring out and are panned over by the camera bring some creep factor in, as some of them push my buttons, but the early stage of this picture has nothing to set my spine tingling. Thinking back on my first viewing in the theatre, I don’t think anything shocked or scared me, but I did love the gradual reveal of what was happening and why. The clinical tone of the technicians (as I think of them) took me more a-back than anything else. And the idea of people getting paid to send other people to precisely manufactured graves is unsettling, but that’s it.
As rather a more seasoned horror veteran than you, I love this movie for the way it subverts every rule and expectation we have and supposes that all of those touchpoints we’ve come to expect from the genre are all part of a larger plan happening behind the scenes. I mean, just for fun, revisit something like A Nightmare on Elm Street and imagine that the Dream Demon was actually deployed by a cohort of high tech corporate types who unleash monsters on unsuspecting victims to appease the bloodlust of the Old Gods. And all while we’re none the wiser! It’s a fun and funky trip, and that’s what I love about what’s going on here.
Now, AM, Drew Goddard co-wrote and directed this movie, and we both know the work of his co-writer Joss Whedon very well. Goddard was quite enmeshed in the Whedon-verse as well, so this movie has a lot of Buffy-esque vibes. A fact I have no problem admitting that I exploited to agree to get you to watch this. So, tell me. What felt familiar to you here? Certainly, there were familiar faces, but did anything else in the story and structure feel like coming home?
A: For sure, there were the familiar faces: Amy Acker (Fred from Angel) and Tom Lenk (Andrew from Buffy), as well as more from Joss’ other properties (Dollhouse, Firefly, etc.), which I haven’t seen but I’m sure Joss & Co. drew upon to cast and crew this movie. The playful tone, especially the one taken by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins (who are so amazing in everything, always), is absolutely a Joss thing. And the idea that Joss, the king of the literal metaphor, would take this twist and apply it to a horror movie, is the most natural thing in the world.
That’s not to mention the apocalyptic ending. Joss does seem to have a fixation on this consequence, as it comes up almost constantly on Buffy. The demons and other baddies are never content to just eat humans, they always want to finitely end humanity. Same here with the “old gods.” They could really be substitutes for Glory on Buffy or Wolfram & Hart on Angel. New name, same objective.
What else seems like classic Joss Whedon? And let’s just go ahead and discuss the best/worst death because this movie was chockablock full of them.
B: You already hinted at it, but for me, the Whedon comes through in the dialogue. The little recurring jokes, i.e. “He has a husband bulge,” and every single comment about Whitford and his dream of seeing the Merman be the creature of choice one of these years. And the Reavers and other Whedonverse creatures that spill out of the cages do their part as well.
I don’t think I have ever considered the best and worth deaths here. Let’s see. I’ll say that the two people who get to die on their own terms in this movie are the winners, so that leaves us with the Final Girl/Virgin and the Fool, played by Kristen Connolly and Fran Kranz, respectively, as the winners of best death. I think the honors of worst death are also split. Chris Hemsworth’s heroic jock gets cut down unceremoniously in what should be a moment of glory, and that’s a bummer. Later, Bradley Whitford finally gets to see a Merman, as he dies at said Merman’s hands. That’s a hilarious bummer.
Same question back to you AM. And indulge me, please, what was the scariest part of The Cabin in the Woods for you?
A: I dunno, I think getting a RUSTY KNIFE JAMMED THROUGH YOUR THROAT AS YOU’RE DRIVING IS PRETTY BAD. That’s my vote. Plus, it’s one of the deaths that I did see coming, but also definitely didn’t see coming. I would agree that Bradley’s wish fulfillment Merman death was pretty badass, even if it was disgusting.
The lead-up in any horror movie is why I’m almost always out. It’s not the actually stabbing or shooting or whatever, it’s the dread you feel knowing someone is about to die but the anticipating freaks me the hell out. I literally couldn’t watch the scene of Jules making out (on a dare) with the taxidermied wolf, because I was convinced that it was going to snap at her. CONVINCED. That’s brilliant filmmaking all around.
Here’s my other issue with an apocalyptic film: literally everyone dies. That does by proxy mean that this horror film has the highest body count of any film, ever, right? I don’t know that I like that everyone dies, but that final image of the first old god breaking through the earth’s crust under the cabin is also sort of how that movie HAD to end.
Now, in true Bradley Whitford form: if you could pick any of the baddies to off you and your crew, which one would it be?
B: That’s a big question, AM. A big question. Luckily, I found a big list of all the monsters people chose on the whiteboard we see in the film, and further, those monsters we only see after things go really wild. After much consideration, I think I’ve narrowed my pick down to two. On pure curiosity, I need to know how a unicorn factors into the cabin scenario, narratively speaking. But I really hope that doesn’t mean I get speared on a horn. In terms of an adversary I’d like to go down against in a blaze of glory, it has to Kevin, who I’ve learned is a psychopathic killer who is summoned if the group watches a film strip found in the basement. 1. I love that he shares a name with The Onion King’s dog from Overcooked. Also, lots of humans. 2. I know it would end badly for me, but I think I’d get the most gumption and the best character moments up against a serial killer type. Also lots of opportunities to drop Silence of the Lambs references.
Dare I ask you the same question?
A: Of course I’ll answer! That’s a terrifyingly complete list, but Joss is nothing if not an overzealous Ravenclaw. There’s no way I’d go for a common phobia (lords no) and the fairy tale characters would be pretty terrifying too. Hard nope on any psychopath or undead, and you’re kind of left with giant animals and the supernatural. Supernatural deaths sound like they’d mean you’d be a ghost or something, so no. And the giant animals would potentially mean a lot of chaos but lots of time to ponder one’s death. I’m going to be pragmatic since in this scenario we’re all facing certain death.
So, for all of those reasons, I’d have to go with Dragonbat. I don’t know exactly what differentiates a Dragonbat from a regular dragon, but that seems like a pretty quick death by flame. Now, if either of us is cast as the Virgin and has a chance to escape? Well, then I think Giant Floating Head is probably going to be the easiest to evade, as he’s modeled after genie folklore. Couldn’t you just refuse to engage with him and not make wishes? There’s probably some sort of loophole making it harder than that, but I feel like if nothing else, it’d be a battle of wits before I go!
B: And with that, Annemarie, kind of (totally) liked another horror movie. That brings our total count to 2!